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Papal Names

Papal Names
Papal names range from the totally normal (Paul, Alexander) to the wild and extravagant (ever met a Telesphorus?). Popes traditionally choose a new regnal name upon election — one of a saint or that of a previous pope. However, this hasn’t always been the case. The 56th pope, John II, was the first to not use his given name. It was Mercurius, after Mercury — a pagan god. Ever since, most popes have gone by a new name.

Along with John and Alexander, other papal names in the US Top 250 include Adrian, Felix, Leo, Marcus, Nicholas, Theodore, Victor, and Zachary. The most common name among popes is John, which has been used 23 times, followed by Benedict and Gregory at 16 each.

The selection of Pope Francis I has added a new name to the list of papal names, which began in the year 32 with St. Peter. Pope Francis is the first pope to choose a unique regnal name since Pope Lando in the year 913. Here are some other names of popes that are still usable today — many of them worn by multiple bearers.
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LeoHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "lion"
  • Description:

    Leo was derived from the Latin leo, meaning “lion.” Thirteen popes have carried the name, including St. Leo the Great. In Germanic languages, Leo has historically been used as a nickname for names including Leon and Leopold. In Latinate languages, Leonardo is considered a full form for Leo.

FelixHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "happy, fortunate"
  • Description:

    Felix was originally a Roman surname but was adopted as a nickname by the ancient Roman Sulla, who believed that he was especially blessed with luck by the gods. It is the name of four popes and sixty-seven saints; in the Bible, Felix is a Roman procurator of Judea.

TheodoreHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "gift of God"
  • Description:

    Theodore is a derivative of the Latin Theodorus, a variation of the Greek name Theodōros. The components are from the Greek words theos, meaning “God,” and dōron, meaning “gift,” giving Theodore the meaning “God-given” or “gift of God.” Names with similar origins include Theodora, Dorothy, and Dorothea.

ZacharyHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "the Lord has remembered"
  • Description:

    Zachary is the English variation of Zacharias, which itself is derived from the Hebrew name Zechariah. The name Zachary is attached to eight different people in the Bible, the most prominent being the father of John the Baptist, and it's also presidential, via 12th president Zachary Taylor. Zackery is an alternate spelling, and nicknames include Zack, Zach, Zac, and Zak.

AdrianHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "man of Adria"
  • Description:

    Adrian is derived from Hadrianus, a Roman family name meaning “from Hadria.” There were two Roman towns called Hadria, the first in Northern Italy, modern day Adria, and the second in Central Italy, known today as Atri. The name of the Adriatic Sea comes from the same origins as Adrian.
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AlexanderHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "defending men"
  • Description:

    Alexander is derived from the Greek name Aléxandros, composed of the elements aléxein, meaning “to defend,” and aner, meaning “man.” According to Greek legend, the first Alexander was Paris, who was given the nickname Alexander by the shepherds whose flocks he defended against robbers. He was followed by Alexander the Great, aka Alexander III, who conquered much of Asia.

LuciusHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "light"
  • Description:

    Lucius is an exotic old Roman clan name that has lots of religious and literary resonance, yet is still vital today. It was the name of three popes, appears in several Shakespeare plays, and, like all the names beginning with 'luc' relates to the Latin word for light.It was one of a limited number of forenames used in ancient Rome.

JohnHeart

  • Origin:

    Hebrew
  • Meaning:

    "God is gracious"
  • Description:

    John is an English derivative of the Hebrew name Yochanan via the Latin name Iohannes, itself coming from the Greek Ioannes. John was a key name in early Christianity, borne by John the Baptist, John the Apostle and John the Evangelist, plus 84 saints and 23 popes, as well as kings and countless other illustrious notables. Contrary to popular belief, the names John and Jonathan are unrelated, the latter being an elaboration of Nathan.

NicholasHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "people of victory"
  • Description:

    Nicholas is derived from the Greek Nikolaos, a name that evolved from the components nikē, meaning “victory”, and laos, “people.” It shares origins with Nike, the name of the Greek goddess of victory. Nicholas is also a New Testament name that is well-used in literature, such as in Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby.

PeterHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "rock"
  • Description:

    Peter is derived from the Greek Petros, meaning “rock” or “stone.” One of the most important figures in the Christian hagiography is Saint Peter, keeper of the Gates of Heaven. Born Simon bar Jonah, he was given the nickname Peter by Jesus, to signify that he would be the rock on which Christ would build Christianity. Centuries later, there was Peter the Great, the czar who developed Russia as a major European power.
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CaiusHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "rejoice"
  • Description:

    Caius is classical and serious but also has a simple, joyful quality. There was a third century pope named Caius, as well as an early Christian writer, several Shakespearean characters, and a Twilight vampire. We would pronounce the name to rhyme with eye-us though at Cambridge University in England, where it's the name of a college, it's pronounced keys. Caius is currently Number 164 on Nameberry.

FrancisHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "Frenchman or free man"
  • Description:

    Since this was the name chosen by the current Roman Catholic pope, Francis has come into the spotlight.

VictorHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "conqueror"
  • Description:

    Victor is one of the earliest Christian names, borne (as Vittorio) by several saints and popes, symbolizing Christ's victory over death. It has been quietly in the Top 200 since 1880, but just recently has taken on a cool edge by fashionable parents in London and seems ripe for a similar reevaluation here too.

LinusHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "flax"
  • Description:

    Can Linus lose its metaphorical security blanket and move from the Peanuts page onto the birth certificate? We think it has enough charm and other positive elements going for it for the answer to be yes.

JuliusHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "youthful, downy-bearded"
  • Description:

    Immortal through its association with the ancient Caesar (it was his clan name), Julius may still lag behind Julian, but is definitely starting to make a comeback, and in fact feels more cutting edge, in line with the current trend for Latin -us endings.
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MarcusHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "warlike"
  • Description:

    Though ancient, Marcus now sounds more current than Mark, in tune with today's trend towards us-ending Latinate names.

SylvesterHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "wood, forest"
  • Description:

    This name of three early popes has been associated in recent years with a cocky cartoon cat ("Thufferin' thuccatash!") and the Italian Stallion hero of the Rocky and Rambo movies (who was born Michael) — and yet we think it just might be ready to move further back into the mainstream.

PaulHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "small"
  • Description:

    To the thousands of girls who screamed the name of their favorite Beatle in the 1960s, the boys' name Paul had a thrillingly unique image, but to the rest of the world, then and now, it's a name that's so simple and yet so widely diffuse that it could belong to almost anyone. Paul is an ancient name for boys -- popular in Roman and medieval times -- that's not very fashionable now, which can work in its favor, scarcity balancing simplicity.

MarkHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "warlike"
  • Description:

    After centuries of lagging behind other apostle names Peter and Paul, Mark suddenly caught on in the early 1950s, reaching Number 6 by 1960. It was in the Top 10 from 1955 to 1970 and second only to Michael in popular boy names starting with M.

ValentineHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "strength, health"
  • Description:

    Valentine is an attractive Shakespearean name with romantic associations, but those very ties to the saint and the sentimental holiday have sent it into a decline, one which we think may be about to turn around.
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EugeneHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "wellborn, noble"
  • Description:

    Eugene is a classic that has rather lost its way. On the one hand, it's a grandpa, even great-grandpa name that hasn't been one of the cool kids recently—or to quote Jim Carrey, who bears this name in the middle spot, "You can never get too cool with a name like Eugene." The hero of Disney's Tangled felt the same way, when he changed his birth name of Eugene to the more romantic Flynn.

BenedictHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "blessed"
  • Description:

    Parents who like Ben and Benjamin but find those forms too popular sometimes consider Benedict as a more distinctive choice. Unlike the Old Testament Benjamin, Benedict is the name of the saint who formed the Benedictine Order and of fifteen popes,including a recent one.

FabianHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin clan name
  • Meaning:

    "bean grower"
  • Description:

    Fabian is the ancient name of a saint and pope that also has Shakespearean cred as Olivia's servant in Twelfth Night and more recently made an appearance in Harry Potter. In the U.S. Fabian became best known via the 1960s teen idol/singer who went solely by his first name.

CorneliusHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "horn"
  • Description:

    Cornelius, the New Testament name of a third century Pope and saint, is one of those venerable Latin names on the edge of consideration, despite the corny nickname alert.

StephenHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "garland, crown"
  • Description:

    Stephen, also spelled Steven, is a strong and likable classic, with the he's-a-great-guy short form Steve. Though not as well-used or fashionable as it was in its heyday -- it was a Top 25 name from 1946 to 1957 -- it's still a widely used name. It remains an even more popular in Ireland.
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MarcellusHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "young warrior"
  • Description:

    This ancient Roman family name, first borne by the distinguished Marcus Claudius Marcellus and later by two popes, is a possibilty in the hot new category of names from antiquity.

MartinHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "warlike"
  • Description:

    Martin is one of those names like Arthur and Vincent and George that is in the process of throwing off its balding middle-aged image to start sounding possible again, used in full without the dated Marty nickname.

ConstantineHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "steadfast"
  • Description:

    This Roman Emperor's name has long been considered too grand for an American boy. But in this era of children named Augustine and Atticus, it just may be prime for an unlikely comeback.

GregoryHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "vigilant, a watchman"
  • Description:

    The Greek name of sixteen popes and fifteen saints, the gregarious Gregory became big in the United States with the emergence of admirable actor Gregory Peck (born Eldred) in the late 1940s. From 1950 to 1973, it was in the Top 30, with nickname Greg becoming a Cool Dude name. So while Gregory may have morphed into an Upstanding Dad Name, it carries the winning combination of deep roots and a modern feel that still deserves consideration.

ClementHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "mild, merciful"
  • Description:

    Clement, the name of fourteen popes and several saints, has a pleasantly, positive, slightly antiquated feel, like the phrase "clement weather."
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CletusHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek
  • Meaning:

    "called forth"
  • Description:

    Sometimes used as a short-form of Catholic Pope name Anacletus, Cletus is an ancient name that has not-yet found the popularity of Theodore, Leo, Atticus and Max. It perhaps suffers from its association to the yokel character in The Simpsons , but we think it's time for a reconsideration, given how well it fits into several current trends. Nickname Clete is cute as a button!

UrbanHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "of the city"
  • Description:

    Urban was not an uncommon name through the 1930s (rising as high as Number 435), having been attached to several saints and early popes, but it has completely disappeared from the landscape--both urban and rural. Yet in this era of word name appreciation and trend for 'an'-ending boys' names, we're thinking it might be ready for a return.

LaurenceHeart

  • Origin:

    Spelling variation of Lawrence
  • Description:

    Spelling refines but doesn't update original. Great option, though, for girls.

DionysiusHeart

  • Origin:

    Greek mythology name
  • Meaning:

    "god of Nysa"
  • Description:

    Dionysius derives from Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, revelry and fertility. This Romanized spelling has been used for poets, soldiers, and saints throughout the centuries, but is hardly ever seen today.

InnocentHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "harmless, innocent"
  • Description:

    Innocent, the name of thirteen popes, is rarely heard in a secular setting, where its loaded meaning could open the door to ridicule.
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LandoHeart

  • Origin:

    Portuguese and Spanish diminutive of Orlando, Rolando
  • Description:

    Lively nickname, but we'd prefer the more substantial Orlando.

BonifaceHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "fortunate, of good fate"
  • Description:

    A name only a pope could carry.

RomanusHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin
  • Meaning:

    "from Rome"
  • Description:

    Most parents looking for an ancient Roman name would probably prefer something less generic, like, say, MAGNUS or CLAUDIUS.

HilaryHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin from Greek
  • Meaning:

    "cheerful, happy"
  • Description:

    The only version that works for boys anymore is the Latinate Hilario or Ilario. Better to look to Felix for a happy-meaning name.
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SixtusHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin from Greek
  • Meaning:

    "sixth born"
  • Description:

    The name of several popes and saints, Sixtus is certainly unusual but would have trouble making it in the modern world outside the Vatican. Even worse is its brother Sextus. Try making it through seventh grade with that name.

SergiusHeart

  • Origin:

    Latin, a Roman clan name
  • Description:

    Rarely heard in modern times, it was used by Norman Mailer for the hero of his book The Deer Park.
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HonoriusHeart

  • Origin:

    Ancient Roman name
  • Description:

    This early name of emperors and popes survives in modern forms such as Honor, used for both genders.